COVID-19: WHO-China team “Terms of Reference” reveal new data on seafood market

By on .

By Daniel R. Lucey M.D., MPH, FIDSA

On Nov. 5, the World Health Organization posted on its website an important nine-page document titled: “WHO-Convened Global Study of the Origins of SARS-CoV2: Terms of Reference for the China Part.”

This document is important for many reasons.

  1.  First, it is dated 31 July 2020 (upper left under the title). It was made public 97 days later.
  2. It specifies the terms that have been agreed to for the larger joint international WHO-China team to undertake the joint investigation.
  3. The title emphasizes the overarching guiding principle that is also stated multiple times in the document i.e. this is a GLOBAL study and that these terms of reference are specifically for the initial “China Part.” The United States, and other nations, should understand the significance of this global focus beyond China.
  4. Key new data are provided in this July 31 document regarding the investigation of the ‘Seafood Huanan Market’ in Wuhan. Under the section near the top of page 5 titled “The early cluster in Wuhan,” new data are provided: “The Huanan wholesale market is a large market (653 stalls and more than 1180 employees) mainly supplying seafood products but also fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, and live animals. In late December 2019, 10 stalls operators were trading live wild animals including chipmunks, foxes, racoons, wild boar, giant salamanders, hedgehogs, sika deer, among others. Farmed, wild and domestic animals were also traded at the market including snakes, frogs, quails, bamboo rats, rabbits, crocodiles, and badgers. The market was closed on 1 January 2020, and several investigations followed, including environmental sampling in the market, as well as sampling of frozen animal carcasses at the market. Of the 336 samples collected from animals, none were PCR positive for SARS-CoV-2, whereas 69 out of 842 environmental samples were positive by PCR for SARS-CoV-2. Sixty- one of those (88%) were from the western wing of the market. Of these, 22 samples were from 8 different drains and sewage, and 3 viruses were isolated, sequenced and shared on GISAID. These were virtually identical to the patient samples collected at the same time (>99.9 % homology).”

What is new here?

  1. To my knowledge, this is the first time that the number of “frozen animal carcasses” (i.e., 336) that were tested by PCR for SARS-CoV2 is stated.
  2. To my knowledge, this is the first time that the 69 positive environmental samples (of 842 samples) from the Market are reported. Earlier reports, beginning in January, of the number of positive environmental samples went from 15 to 31 to 33. Now that number has more than doubled to 69, with 61/69 (88%) being from the “western wing of the market.”

Notably, still no “One Health Map” of the Market (my term for the needed map of environmental-human-animal test results is provided). Such a map would show the exact location and stall number where:

  1. Each of the positive (69) and negative (773 = 842-69) environmental samples were located, superimposed with:
  2. The exact location of all the infected people (N= 27+) who worked or shopped or who were otherwise epi- linked to the Market, and,
  3. The exact location of all animals tested, both “frozen animal carcasses (336)” and live animals that this document lists in detail more than any prior public document i.e. “… live wild animals including chipmunks, foxes, raccoons, wild boar, giant salamanders, hedgehogs, sika deer, among others. Farmed, wild and domestic animals were also traded at the market including snakes, frogs, quails, bamboo rats, rabbits, crocodiles, and badgers.”

Why is no mention whatsoever made of test results on any or all of these 14 animal species (seven “live wild animals” and seven “Farmed, wild or domestic”)?

Given the unsurpassed expertise of China CDC epidemiologists, it is not plausible that samples from these live animals were not obtained STARTING on or before the end of December (or beginning of January) when the initial “Joint Field Epidemiologic Investigation Team” began work on the ground in Wuhan (specific co-authors from the Wuhan CDC and Hubei CDC and national Beijing CDC teams), as reported in the China CDC weekly (Jan. 22).

Dr. Daniel Lucey

Daniel Lucey, M.D. MPH, FIDSA, FACP, Clinical Professor of Medicine (Teaching) at Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, adjunct Professor at Georgetown Medical Center, senior scholar at Georgetown Law, Anthropology Research Associate at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America Global Health Committee. He served as a volunteer to outbreaks overseas including patient care in Sierra Leone and Liberia (MSF) during Ebola 2014, SARS 2003, MERS 2013, Plague 2017 as well as H5N1, Zika, and Yellow Fever. Since Jan. 6 he has contributed more than 50 posts to Science Speaks on COVID-19 and traveled to China Feb. 11. With career experiences, he proposed and helped design the 2018-2022 Smithsonian Exhibition on Epidemics.

One thought on “COVID-19: WHO-China team “Terms of Reference” reveal new data on seafood market

  1. JB

    The 336 “samples collected from animals” may not have involved 336 separate carcasses, and could include samples from live animals. (There is no statement that there were 336 carcasses.
    The statement is that there were 336 samples collected from animals.)

    It is not uncommon to sample multiple locations in a single carcass when looking for disease, so there may be far fewer than 336 carcasses involved, or even samples from live animals.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to JB Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.